I am so desperate to talk to somebody about this problem - it just keeps getting worse and worse. About three years ago I developed an eating disorder. I started because I was a chubby girl surrounded by a lot of pressure. My family was no help. My mother is not an open mother, like one I could talk to about any minor problem; she has always been unaffectionate. My biggest wish was that she would see how much I need mother-comforting words. She would just get upset because I was chubby, and would call me fat.
At the time I had a boyfriend who my mother didn't approve of. It seemed to me that he was the only one that was there for me, though my mom couldn't even stand to hear his name. We had big problems with that for about a year. At that point, I had already been anorexic and bulimic for about the same amount of time. Everyone noticed the great change in my weight, but no one asked how or why. After two years of this, I ran away from home after trying to commit suicide. My boyfriend supported me and helped me out but then became very aggressive with me. I left him and returned home. I wasn't punished for running away, but my mom never again spoke of it.
When I graduated my mom let me go to Mexico. My excuse was to study Spanish but really it was to get away. I spent half a year there and I met a wonderful guy. He was the only person who made me feel loved. It's now my third year of being bulimic and it's become a major issue. I left my boyfriend in Mexico and here at home I feel extremely lonely. I haven't even stepped outside of my house, except for a couple of times. Not even when the best of my friends call me to go out. My mom is making it harder and thinks for some crazy reason that I am still in contact with my ex. She cannot stand any of my friends, that's why I don't get out at all. From time to time I feel suicidal. I talk to my boyfriend in Mexico sometimes and he asks me to come back. I don't want therapy, I want to be with him. I hate the way my mom treats me. I would give up being bulimic if she would treat me like a true daughter, talk to me, and give me some privileges. Please help me, I am so desperate.
Veronica, 18-year-old woman
I have read your story and reread your story and it makes me sad to know of your aloneness and deep pain and feeling of desperation. I hope that it will help to know that you have found someone to listen and who understands, at least in part, what you are going through. I'm going to "talk" to you for a few minutes about some of the things that come to me as I read your story. Of necessity, because of limitations of space, what I have to say will be somewhat brief, but hopefully I can give you something to think about and point you in a helpful direction.
Your eating disorder, as you seem to know, is only a symptom of a deeper problem, which in your case seems to be an existential loneliness. It (the eating disorder) is a serious problem in its own right, however, and should not be ignored or minimized! Eating disorders are complex and can spring from a multiplicity of factors, but generally are either due to self-loathing and a concomitant desire to injure the self or from a protest against the failures of significant others to recognize and respond to your "personhood". One is intra-personal and the other is inter-personal. Both are due to a deep wounding of the self.
Your eating disorder appears to contain elements of both causes. You are aware that your mother has not responded to your emotional needs. I can't tell how aware you are of your own negative self image that is the result of the inability of your mother and, probably, of others with whom you have had a close relationship (such as your former boyfriend) inability to respond to your need to be recognized and loved.
I don't think that your former "chubbiness" has much to do with any of this, except in-so-far as people's response to it may have contributed to your negative feelings about yourself. Of course, it is also the probable reason why you chose anorexia as your method of self harm over other methods.
You say that you don't want therapy and I agree that you don't need to "be fixed", but I suspect that you may find it useful to talk to someone who can help you repair your sense of yourself as a valuable and lovable person. Does that have to be a therapist? No, but it could be that a trained professional will make that process quicker and more assured than if you try to do it by some other "self-help" means.
I certainly feel that learning to see yourself as lovable (and, perhaps, letting go of the idea that you will ever get that from your mother and that she is the only source of meaningful approval) is the primary thing that will allow you to give up the eating disorder and enjoy a happy life.
This leaves me with the love that you found in Mexico to deal with. Did the man love you for your genuine self? While you were in that relationship, did you feel that you were getting the love that you've not gotten from your mother? What feelings did you experience?
I would like to say that a love relationship in which you feel valued, respected and cared for can be a cure for a lifetime of longing, but that is not usually the case. All too often the many years of deprivation produce a level of need (of love in your case) that is too great for any one person to satisfy. Frequently that leads to a breakdown of the relationship.
That's not to say that that might not be a good relationship for you in the long run, but it is to say that you should accomplish the repair of your positive sense of self - become whole - before you enter into any love relationship. And above all, do not enter a relationship with the hope and desire that it will make everything right. It won't. (Do you already know that? Is that why you didn't stay in Mexico and why you're not returning?)
You are an articulate young woman and you have a level of insight into your situation superior to many people in your situation. Learn to love yourself. Learn to care for yourself. It's not easy, but I believe that you can do it. When you do, the love that you want from others will be there. I can't say who it will come from, but it will come.
Jerry Button L.M.H.C.